With a plethora of tipples such as beer, sake, wine, shochu, and whiskey, Japan certainly has no shortage of alcohol on its shelves.
While those familiar with Japan may instantly think of the alcohol section of a convenience store, or drunk salarymen under a tree in spring, it should go without saying that alcohol is big business domestically.
We should also consider the fact that Japanese brewers have been buying up smaller beverage producers abroad. This, along with trends in the domestic market, has prompted other Japanese companies who have never been associated with alcohol to enter the fray.
With even the Coca-Cola Company deciding to create a chuhai (short for shouchu highball) as its first ever alcoholic drink, it is no wonder that other Japanese brands have been jumping on the wagon.
What the numbers say
The actual number of litres of alcohol consumed domestically each year has been decreasing since the dizzy heights of 1996. One contributing factor to this has been the reduction in after work drinking parties.
While Japanese consumers may be drinking less, it is fair to say that drinkers in Japan are looking for price and quality over quantity.
Looking at the trends of alcoholic beverages sales, beer was by far the most dominant tipple in 1989 with 71.0% of the share, followed by sake at 15.7% and shochu at 5.8%.
Skip to 2016, and the actual consumption of beer has remained the same, but its share has fallen to 31.3%, followed by sake with 6.4% and shochu with 9.9%.
24.4% is now occupied by the new budget genre of beverages such as Chuhai (mentioned above) and Happoshu (beer-like drink made with shochu).
Exporting Sake to the World
The number of alcoholic drinks exported by Japan has been on the rise since 2013.
With the worldwide boom in Japanese food, the export volume of sake doubled between 2005 and 2015, reaching 14 billion yen worth of trade.
1. Kirin Holdings Co. Ltd.
Kirin Co., Ltd. has several brands such but the most famous is “Ichiban Shibori” which is available all over the world.
Its budget happoshu alternative to beer, Hon Kirin, has been a big hit since 2018 and has propelled Kirin to the second largest seller of alcohol in the year 2020 during the “stay home” era.
In addition to its famous beer and beer alternative, the company produces various products such as wine, whiskey, brandy, and shochu.
2. Asahi Group Holdings Ltd.
Until 2020, Asahi has been Japan’s top beer company with core brands such as “Super Dry” and Okinawa-based “Orion Beer”.
The company also has Nikka whiskey, Sainte Neige wine, and Enoteca under its umbrella.
3. Suntory Beverage & Food Ltd.
Suntory is the third largest brewer on the list. The company bought the American Beam company, famous for Jim Beam whisky in 2014.
4. Sapporo Holdings Ltd.
Hailing from the northernmost reaches of the country where the climate is notably cooler, Sapporo is a well-known beer brand in Japan.
In addition to the brewing business of Sapporo Breweries, the company develops food and beverages and also has a real estate business.
Sapporo is the 4th largest Japanese beer producing company in the industry with two beer brands, “Sapporo Draft Black Label” and “Yebisu Beer”.
5. Kikkoman Corp.
Best known for its soy sauce, of which holds the top share in Japan, Kikkoman also manufactures and sells “Del Monte” products such as fruit products and ketchup.
The company has recently entered the premium wine business, with its prestigious “Man’s wine” being served to world leaders including Donald Trump on his state visit to Japan in 2018.
6. Oenon Holdings Inc.
With the fermentation technology cultivated over many years as the core, Oenon has a scientific approach to producing alcoholic drinks.
In addition to its famous shochu brands such as “Takatakatan” and “Hakata no Hana”, the company also also produces sake such as “Northern Honor” and “Fuki”, while dabbling in producing wine, chuhai, plum wine, and whiskey.
7. Morinaga & Co. Ltd.
In addition to the confectionery business such as caramel, biscuits and chocolate, the company develops sweet foods such as chocolate and ice cream.
In an effort to focus on healthy products, the company began manufacturing Morinaga Amazake many moons ago, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of its release in 2019.
8. Kato Sangyo Co. Ltd.
Kato is another traditional food manufacturer to recently enter the alcoholic beverage market
It currently operates a liquor wholesale business through its affiliated Sanyo Bussan, Yatani Sake Sales, SAS Japan, and Kato Sake Sales.
9. Shibuya Kogyo Co. Ltd.
Shibuya Kogyo develops bottling and packaging systems for beverage products and has the top share of this business in Japan and a large share of the world market.
10. Takara Holdings, Inc.
Takara was the first to release the now hugely popular chuhai style of drinks 40 years ago, which now dominated by Kirin.
Over the last few years the company has found success in a premium brand of chuhai, which are sold exclusively in certain regions of Japan and bought as souvenirs. They are now selling 37 types of “Craft Chuhai” which has lead to great success over the last few year.